Alexander the Great was just 20 when he became ruler of Macedonia in 336 BC. For the next 13 years he led the Macedonian army on an incredible military campaign, capturing the whole of the Persian Empire and adopting for himself the title ‘King of Kings’.
Alexander was a Classical hero, a ruthless warrior-king with a huge ego. Such a man would not be acceptable to us today as a leader of Britain. We want our leaders to be strong but we expect them to serve us (the Prime Minister is the First Servant). We want them to be on the side of oppressed people everywhere, not to go conquering and robbing other nations for us. Our heroes are not those who selfishly dominate others but those who jump into icy water to save others or who remain at the controls to steer the plane away from houses.
So what changed our definition of true heroism, and why don’t all cultures in the world agree on this?
The Indian writer Vishal Mangalwadi* has given a simple answer which is all the more compelling because he has looked in on Western culture from the outside: he says we have been deeply influenced by one man and by the book that tells his story. This man’s influence has been growing for 2000 years but has been most deeply felt in those countries where the Bible has for hundreds of years been read and absorbed – in North America and Britain, and elsewhere in NW Europe.
Far from making us proud we should be grateful for this moulding of our minds, but also alarmed that the source of this influence is now largely blocked up. How long will it be before the reservoir of habitual self-sacrificial love dries up?
Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant”. Even he, Jesus, had “not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Good Friday has given us a very different kind of hero.
*in ’The Book That Made Your World’ (Thomas Nelson, 2011)